Last night I was mugged at gunpoint. The perpetrator not only made off with the $560.00 in cash that I was carrying (which I had intended to deposit today) but he knocked me down to the ground and kicked me hard enough that he left a nasty bruise in my ribs before he made his getaway on a magic, chocolate-colored Pegasus.
None of which is true, but it is a rather exciting way to begin this week’s blog entry, isn’t it? Except that, by lying to you, I have now risked alienating you emotionally, because you will now think twice about trusting what I tell you, even if it’s about how much I like that top you’re wearing and how to sets off the flecks of color in your shimmering eyes.
Speaking of violence and the romantic visage of your enduring beauty, I know some of you haven’t yet heeded my advice and investigated one of my most favorite balladeers of all time: Judee Sill.
Judee Sill conducts herself well.
Judee’s story is one of tragic darkness, from which sprung gorgeous and sage songwriting. She was the Billie Holiday of the “Laurel Canyon sound.”
Influenced more by Johann Sebastian Bach than her 1970’s rock ‘n’ blow contemporaries, methodical composition such as fugue-structure, and over-dubbing of her own voice into chorale-style, inform her heart-wrenched post-hymns.
Her father and brother both died when she was a child, and her mother re-married to Kenneth Muse, an animator for one of my least favorite cartoons of all time, Tom & Jerry. (I mean really, the way that mouse antagonizes that poor cat, who very naturally fights back – both by his nature as a felis catus and in defense of Jerry’s cruelty – only to be downtrodden every time. What kind of message does that send to children? BE A BULLY. That’s what it tells ‘em. And then poor, sensitive, fat kids like me get the brunt of it. And all I ever wanted was to love and be loved. Is that so wrong?!)
[Insert sound of Job sobbing here]
Judee left her dysfunctional home (I imagine her stepfather probably lured her head into a mouse-hole and bopped her face with a mallet) and hit the road for a life of free-wheeling druggery and armed robbery. She developed an addiction to that precocious li’l drug we call heroin. In order to pay for the habit, she prostituted herself (which almost certainly prepared her for a life as a professional musician).
She honed her skills as a keyboard player while serving time in jail for fraudulent check writing, and, as she found herself with some soul to spare after kicking smack, she decided to write music.
She had early success selling compositions to other groups, such as The Turtles, who covered her song “Lady-O.”
She was signed by David Geffen, who was then developing his new Asylum Label, and toured as the opening act for Graham Nash and David Crosby. Her self-titled, debut album was produced by her ex-husband, Bob Harris (who also produced Joni Mitchell’s superb effort Ladies of the Canyon).
While critics gushed praise for her work, sales remained low and, after some snarky comments about Geffen and his sexual-orientation (he was not yet out of the closet), Judee was given the bum’s rush, after only producing two albums. (Don’t rush to assume she was homophobic, though, as she was known to fancy the ladies herself.)
EEEK!!! I just now experienced my first earthquake ever! That was some ride. Now I understand what all the hub-bub is about. A giant silver crucifix just fell off my shelf and knocked the } ] key out of my laptop. Anyway, friends and family outside LA, Fangs and I are fine, just a little shaken-up (har har har!).
Silver crucifixes are also apropos when pondering Judee Sill, who sports one on the cover of her debut album. She was deeply interested in the occult and Christian mysticism. Some people, considering her lyrics, assume she was Christian, as Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is a reoccurring theme, but her appreciation was esoteric, not dogmatic. (Though it is worth noting that she was baptized by Pat Boone in his swimming pool.)
"Don't worry - I'll save you!" Christian pop icon, Pat Boone
After losing her ties with Geffen, Judee rode a downward spiral into obscurity. Rumors circulated of her death. So much so, that when she actually did die in 1979 from a cocaine overdose, it surprised people. She had seemed to die twice.
Cover art painted by Judee
To our good fortune, in 2005, Water Records produced a two cd compilation of unreleased demos, studio recordings, and live video footage of Judee, titled “Dreams Come True.” Jim O’Rourke provided the mixing.)
Judee’s music holds a place so dear to my heart that, while I’ve often been tempted to blog about her, I’ve never felt up to the task. I simply can’t do justice to the ecstasy she evokes in me. (That’s also why you’ve never read any blogs by me regarding Scott Walker.)
Anyway, check her out if, y’know, you’re into gorgeous, haunting music that makes your heart ache and pierces your soul. Otherwise, check out some Warlock Pinchers. They’re fun.